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How Many People Traveled the Oregon Trail?: And Other Questions About the Trail West

How Many People Traveled the Oregon Trail?: And Other Questions About the Trail West

By: Miriam Aronin
Publisher: Lerner Publishing
Publication Date: March 2012
ISBN: 978-0761385660
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: March 2012

The original inhabitants of "modern-day Oregon" were Indians, who were left undisturbed until the 1500s when Spanish explorers briefly visited. It wasn't until the early 1800s that the Lewis and Clark expedition explored the area. They wrote reports to U.S. president Thomas Jefferson telling him that "the land in Oregon Country was rich and beautiful." The natural riches of the area, including the valuable furs Indians wore, interested men like John Jacob Astor. In 1810 the first settlement in the Oregon Country wilderness was named in his honor. Fort Astor (Astoria) was the first of many yet to come that would lure settlers to the West. The War of 1812 ended with a peace treaty in which the British and the Americans would later share the territory.

Trails began to be blazed, including one by Robert Stuart who had actually "blazed the Oregon Trail backward." Other brave souls such as Jedediah Smith grew familiar with Stuart's trail and later organized wagon train expeditions heading west to Oregon via the South. Some went to claim the riches of the land, while others like Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, went to work as missionaries. The jumping off start, or beginning of their journey, for those heading west began in places along the Missouri River. In 1843 almost one thousand emigrants were in Independence, Missouri "preparing to leave on the Oregon Trail."

The travelers prepared by selling their worldly goods and buying supplies they needed for the long "four- to six-month trek across plains, mountains, valleys, and rivers." Their wagons were constructed in a way that would make the trip in a safe, easy manner. The pioneers had to carefully select what they needed, including things such as spinning wheels and silverware. You will also learn about the animals that pulled the wagons, why they had to walk, how far they could travel in a day, how they crossed rivers, what they feared, the landmarks they were looking for, you'll read about families who ran into trouble, and you'll learn many other interesting details of how people traveled the Oregon Trail heading west.

Prefacing each section, save the introduction and the first chapter, is a question that gives a hint of what the chapter will be about. For example, before the chapter discussing "New Homes," the question asks: "Where did the emigrants settle?" This book adds a lot of interesting characters, many of whom don't often show up in school textbooks. I liked meeting the missionaries and learning about explorers who are usually eclipsed when we read about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Difficult or unusual words such as "expedition" or "cholera" are circled and explained in the margins, thus eliminating the need for a glossary. The book is generously illustrated with maps, archival art reproductions, and numerous informative sidebars. In the back of the book is an index, a timeline (1805 to 1906), source notes, a selected bibliography, and an additional recommended book and website resources to explore. There are free downloadable educational materials on the publisher's website.

Quill says: This is a fascinating overview of the Oregon Trail, the people who blazed it, and those who traveled it.

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